Here’s the scene: You’re sitting in an epsom salt bath infused with lavender and eucalyptus oils, the room glowing with candlelight, and chill tunes playing softly over the speakers…
Then the brain chatter starts…
“How much time do I really have?”
“Should I start dinner before I relax?”
“Did I answer all of my emails?”
“Should I take a pitcher of electrolyte water with me, just in case?”
And just like that—a relaxing bath has become an epic stressor. The mood is gone, the bliss has dissipated. By this point, you may even be angry at yourself for even pretending that damn bath could’ve been a possibility.
But bliss is important; continuing to put yourself on the back burner will definitely catch up with you. The science is sound: those who don’t participate in self-care rituals are much more likely to suffer from frequent health issues, including colds, inflammation, depression and anxiety, and sleep disturbances that are detrimental over time (Cleveland Clinic).
Why do we do this to ourselves? For some, self care sounds like an extravagance that is undeserved and unnecessary. A girlfriend of mine, when I mentioned taking some time out of her day for a mental health check, told me that (and this deserves quotes), “I have a manicure today. That counts, doesn’t it?” Maybe it is a form of self care, but getting your nails done isn’t what we mean when talking about self care. Others believe self care must be a giant production to matter. Newsflash: you CAN have self care without spa treatments (but every once in a while… the spa can be fabulous). So, what is self care, and why does it matter?
Self Care: A Primer
Generally speaking, devoting time to pay attention to yourself is self care. This time must be directed by you and spent on satisfying you. Not your kids or pets or clients. It is care. For you. And regardless of how you feel about it, it’s not frivolous—this is, quite literally, survival. With 39% of Americans saying they’re more stressed now than they were a year ago, clearly something has to give (Psychology Today). As a chronic workaholic, I’ve had to work hard to find the right alchemy of self care for me. Hopefully these four quick and easy go-to’s will take the mystery out of self care for you.
One: Shifting Mindset
Face it—we’ve been socialized to feel guilty about taking care of ourselves. And here’s a fact: Americans equate busyness with their sense of accomplishment. It’s no wonder that we conflate taking time away from busy with feeling lazy and “less than.” So, rather than succumbing to the negative convo in your head, flip the script! A favorite hack for changing my mindset is writing my desired mindset on my bathroom mirror. Every time I see it, I say it out loud. When I’ve adopted it, I erase it, thereby leaving it in the past and being ready to move forward. For example: My mirror message for this week is quite simple: HARD WORK IS POINTLESS IF YOU’RE DEAD. SLOW DOWN! Admittedly, this is a message I constantly struggle with… but I also thought of it when I decided to stop working early and charge my batteries over the weekend. I worked hard, and I deserved a break. Small victories!
Two: Make It Official
The road to self care can be paved with good intentions but without proper follow-through, that road is going nowhere productive. To make self care a priority, scheduling it as you would any other important appointment not only creates a time for that specific activity, but it assigns value. Why is a dentist appointment more important than an hour of playtime? It isn’t. And remember: The doctor charges a penalty for a late cancellation—maybe you should, too.
Three: Get Physical
Yes, yes—sitting and watching the clouds sail by is calming, but exercise is a great way to decrease cortisol levels, reduce anger and frustration, and get your happy hormones flowing. And while vigorous exercise does a great job of this, even small amounts of exercise provides these benefits. Oh, and PS: frisky business counts as exercise too; think of it as the gift that keeps on giving.
In navigating my own self care journey, I came across a Time article about the benefits of laughter. My family seems to think I don’t laugh enough (who has the time?), so I thought I’d see what the tangible benefits of laughter are, besides free ab work, of course. I was shocked to find that Gelotolgy, or the study of laughter, is a real field, and thanks to this study, we have definitive proof that laughter can release endorphins, lessen the body’s stress response, uplift mood, and even kill cancer cells (Science Daily)! So there’s nothing wrong with curling up on the couch in your favorite jammies to watch a comedy, because you’re doing yourself a world of good in that 90-minutes!
Remember—it takes an average of sixty-six days to create a habit, so give yourself a break if you have difficulty making your efforts stick. Rather than allowing your brain chatter to steer you off course, just enjoy your bath. And your epsom salts!
Misty Lynne Cauthen is a Pittsburgh-based entrepreneur, speaker, and fitness model. When she’s not shaping bodies and minds at Dragonfly Pilates, she’s putting the finishing touches on Finding Your You Luxury Wellness Retreats. For a next level self care experience, click here to sign up for her wellness tips for women and get invites to her exclusive retreats.